The programming is both predictable and surprising: Predictable, because youd expect there to be a gay male audience for things like a private tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed campus at Florida Southern. Surprising, because even though such outings are appealing, its rare to see them offered to gay men in any organized fashion.
A USF MBA, Geller has long harbored the notion of an alternative to the bars, throughout a business career that has included the mens clothing shop what2wear at the Suncoast Resort and a stint with the Melting Pot Restaurants chain developing a chocolate-fondue kiosk concept called Dips! After the chain discontinued the chocolate project and let him go, he decided last year to test out his gay-socializing idea. He invited 10 friends to join him for a late-night screening of Sex and the City and drinks at Bennigans, then asked them what other group activities they might be interested in. O&A was born.
Geller, 44, is an avid amateur athlete he once biked the Iron Man course during a Hawaii vacation and originally thought Outings & Adventures would be more adventurous. But, a marketer at heart, he listened to his audience and realized that not everyone likes to bike 45-60+ miles each weekend day and broadened the offerings from athletic to other endeavors.
The range is eclectic, and geared toward an older, sophisticated demographic: Horseback riding. Crepe-making at L'Oiviers in Ybor. Kayaking, hiking and a monthly book club. Dinner-and-a-movie with the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Boot camp with a fitness trainer in SoHo. A day at the spa with massages and facials.
And opera. Hed never been. So he got a group together, including a singer and a critic, and went to an opera at USF. Great time had by all, he says, especially the post-show trip to Dairy Queen.
But it might be someone else leading that group if I do it again.
His programming is like that, he says. A lot of it comes from things that I would want to do. But some are things I do once, I never want to do again.
Early on, he encountered some resistance to O&A from little cliques who perhaps resented that he was trying to democratize the gay social scene.
There was no bitter queen deciding whos welcome and who isnt, he says. It didnt matter how old, how young, how thin you were.
But that welcoming attitude eventually brought him customers.
He really creates a warm and friendly environment for events, says Tom Faricy, 45, an O&A regular and the human resources director for Tampa Bays two Renaissance hotels, the Vinoy and the Hyatt. That atmosphere encourages people to go to the events over and over again and get to know people that they dont know already.
Hes Julie the Cruise Director, says USF marketing professor Gary Gebhardt, 45, another regular. Only much better-looking.
Membership in O&A is free; Geller takes a cut from the ticket price for expenses. (And the prices are reasonable; a four-course wine dinner at Grillsmith, for instance, was $60.) He hasnt seen any profit yet, but he has advertisers on his website, including Raymond James Financial, and hes selling O&A merchandise. And with 1,500 members and counting, he no longer has to worry so much about whether hell attract enough participants.
At first Id be stressing, worrying that Id fill up those events. Now theyre regularly selling out. Forty-two people showed up for a recent hayride and bonfire. For the Wright tour, which was led by a docent, he was told to bring no more than 25 people; interest was so strong that he had to expand to 31. I couldnt take the PayPal down fast enough. In July, hell take a group to see Stageworks production of The Little Dog Laughed, a comedy about a closeted Hollywoood actor. Hes confident enough that the show will be a draw that hes bought up all 99 seats at TBPACs Shimberg Playhouse.
And this is just the beginning.
What Oprah is to women I want O&A to be for gay men, say Geller. Live your best life possible.
Or at least a little better life, with the help of some new gay friends.
Tonight, Tuesday June 22, O&A's Book Club meets at Blue Water Grill in the Quorum Hotel, 700 N. West Shore Blvd., Tampa, 6:30 p.m., with 1/2 price appetizers and drink specials until 7, discussion of the novel Selfish and Perverse by humorist Bob Smith at 6:45. Annual Book Club membership dues: $15.